New iPhone travel app aims to save right whales from Angry Ships

NOAA app pinpoints endangered right whales so ships can steer around them

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(Right whales got their name from whalers during the 1800s, who assumed their huge size (70 tons), low speed, convenient location and incredible stupidity made them the "right" whale for ships to hunt that didn't want to spend two or three years circling the globe to hunt sperm, gray and blue whales.)

helps the constant stream of large fishing boats, freighters, tankers and container ships prove that, at sea, right of way belongs to the moving object weighing hundreds or thousands of tons, not the 70 tons or so the adult right whales are packing.

There are only a few hundred right whales left in the wild; of the 67 found dead between 1970 and 2007, 24 had been killed by collisions with ships.

To reduce the damage, U.S. shippers and coastal authorities changed shipping lanes, enforce rules that force ships to avoid right whales by at least 500 yards and report any they spot so NOAA and the Coast Guard can notify ships in the where to watch for vulnerable whales and what areas to avoid.

NOAA's North Atlantic Right Whale Sighting Advisory System is a simple interface for ship captains looking for potential obstacles, but the web-based app is hard to bring up on the bridge and doesn't issue alerts on its own based on the ship's location and the best real-time reports of whale locations.

Whale Alert provides a graphical map of the U.S. east coast with icons showing the location of all reported sightings of right whales.

It gets the information both from reports from boats in the area and from sonar buoys on the floor of Boston Harbor and other areas up and down the East Coast.

It uses the phone's GPS function to identify the ship's location and, when necessary, give directions for how to avoid an area of heavy sightings.

It is designed for "mariners," which means anyone on a boat. It is aimed at the officers of large cargo or container ships, but is simple and cheap enough (it's free) for recreational boaters or hobbyists as well.

"Right whales need dramatic conservation progress to survive, according to a quote in NOAA's announcement from Patrick Ramage, global whale director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which helped develop the app." This new iPad app gives these whales a fighting chance."

There is no Android version yet, and none of the participants has commented on whether driving 90,000-ton ships while reading or entering data on the Whale Alert app counts as driving-and-texting in shipping terms.

Photo Credit: 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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